“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”-Sharon Gannon-
We’ve all had those days in the yoga room. Those days when the stars are aligned and the body is strong. You make your way into postures with ease and suddenly it clicks – that one cue from your teacher that puts it all into perspective – you just get it. You can do that arm balance, get that bind, touch the crown of your head to the mat just as you’ve been working toward for so many months. This is the day you move your practice forward. You are tangibly stronger today than you were yesterday. The breath is flowing. You are invincible.
However, we also experience days when it seems that an anti-yoga alien has taken up residence somewhere within us. Down dog is a struggle. Child’s pose calls out to you after every vinyasa. It’s all you can do to get through to savasana and when you do get there you just want to stay in it forever if only to avoid the frustration of the horrible class you’ve just had. Where do these days come from? How is it possible that on days and off days can co-exist, sometimes within the same week of practice?
Often we know the answers to these questions intrinsically. There are certain challenges unique to yogis living in this region of the country. New England’s seasons are all drastically different from one another and the transitions between seasons are always harder on body and mind than we realize. Winter brings us so many amazing things but it can also bring us seasonal depression and a strong desire to eat more than our fair share of cookies (or maybe that’s just me?). Summer is an amazing time to come alive, come out of hibernation, but it’s also a time of the great socialization distractors such as lazy beach days, spontaneous plans with friends, and fun beverages that only make their appearance for these short three months out of the year. Of course we feel the need to take advantage while the sun is shining. We all know how consumption of extra and just a few short weeks away from the practice takes its toll.
Seasonal challenges aside, there are so many other factors that go into our yoga practice – the daily stresses of our very busy lives. Work can be stressful and this stress can follow us right into the yoga room manifesting as tension or even physical pain. Social interactions, while essential in our lives, take a lot of our time, energy, and can take a lot of work to keep healthy. Our bodies are imperfect; they get run down, we get sick, we forget to eat or hydrate, we get older, we sustain injuries, we lose sleep, our practice seems to move backwards.
Consider the Sharon Gannon quote – if yoga is our natural state of being, what are your asanas (physical practice) telling you about your life? If you are feeling strong, that strength is a clear response to something that’s working, something beneficial you are doing for and giving to your body and mind. What factors are working in your diet, in your relationships, in your spiritual and mental wellbeing? Sometimes we are just strong, just feeling good, but often this strength is the result of positive cultivation of the body.
If you are feeling weak or depleted, resist the temptation to throw up your hands in frustration or beat yourself up on the inside. Take this less than perfect phase of your practice as an opportunity to inquire within and ask yourself what might be different, what might be missing, and what might help your body and mind return to a period of greater strength. Do you need more sleep? Are you spending too much time on a toxic relationship? What’s happening with your diet these days? Just how long of a break did you take between last class and this class and what transpired during your yoga hiatus? Make whatever changes you feel compelled to make. Have patience with yourself and remember those days of strength you have experienced. Trust and know that with time and a continuing dedication to your practice, you WILL experience them again, maybe sooner than you think.
We say it all the time in class – yoga is a practice. It’s just that – a practice. You’ll never hear it called a yoga perfect, because we are human, and this will never be. The concept of perfect balance, while extremely appealing, is illusory and unattainable. Does this mean we should stop striving for it? No. It just means we should adjust our hopes and ideals of our yoga practice and ourselves. Set your expectations according to your personal goals. Let those goals be attainable. When you reach them, set new ones. Be thankful for the days of strength and growth. Take note of the days of weakness and find something to be thankful for in those classes as well. Some yoga is always better than no yoga. Embrace the inevitability of the ebb and flow of your yoga practice and observe it without judgment. Know that yoga is your natural state of being, and do your best to openly listen to what the asanas are telling you about that natural state.